The infamous fleas and ticks – super-villains of the pet universe. The tick – able to drink two hundred times its own body weight in blood and cause illness with a single bite. How do we fight such a formidable foe? By using a multi-pronged attack of prevention and treatment. Fleas and ticks can be controlled and prevented from becoming a problem if you know how to recognize the warning signs.
Though ticks and fleas look alike and are often grouped together as pests, they are actually very different from each other. To begin with, ticks are not insects like fleas; they are in the spider family. They cannot move nearly as quickly as fleas and find a host by crawling onto them, not jumping. The "tick season" is close to a flea's however. Spring and autumn are the most common times to find ticks but their numbers depend on the temperature and humidity; both must be high for ticks to thrive. Ticks molt through four main stages before reaching adulthood and must have a blood meal before they are able to molt to a new stage. Ticks can also live up to eight years, depending on the type.
Ticks can spread many dangerous diseases with their bite. The most well-known of these is the bacterial infection Lyme Disease. This infection is usually spread by deer ticks and its symptoms include lameness, fever, loss of appetite, fatigue, and swollen lymph nodes. While it can progress to infect the nervous and circulatory systems, it is easily treatable by antibiotics if it is diagnosed early. Lyme disease is usually spread by deer ticks but different ticks in different areas can spread different diseases. Some of these diseases include Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, encephalitis, tularemea, paralysis in dogs, babesiosis, and ehrlichiosis.
Whenever you or your animal has spent time in tall grass or brush, always check any exposed areas carefully – including the underside of dogs' ears and the stomach area. If you or your pet experience fever, lameness, loss of appetite, sudden pains in legs or body, arthritis, swelling in joints, lethargy, or a sudden cough, see your doctor or veterinarian about the possibility of one of these diseases.
If you spot a tick on you or your pet, it is easy to remove. Do not try to burn the tick off, suffocate it with nail polish, drown it in gasoline, or any other old wives tale remedies. Instead of getting the tick to let go or die, they may be cause it to spit up germs into the bite and cause more infections than before. Grab the tick firmly near the mouth parts with a pair of rounded tweezers or a tick pick and rock back and forth while pulling. If some of the mouth parts are left behind (it will usually look like black lines in the bite), sterilize the bite well with alcohol and dab with antiseptic cream to prevent infection. Drop the tick in a small vial of rubbing alcohol to kill it. It is recommended to save the tick for at least about a week in case any of the above symptoms begin to show so your doctor or veterinarian is able to identify it.
Many products are available that are advertised to repel and kill ticks and their young. Most of these use chemicals that may not be safe for young, weak, or nursing animals. If you are unsure which is best for your animal, check with your local veterinarian for recommendations. Keep in mind that different areas have different types of ticks so the best product for your area might vary from another area. Try to also keep bushes and grass trimmed and keep animals out of heavy brush areas during the peak months of tick season. Flea and tick treatments are often very similar so you can usually treat both with one path of treatment.